In 1830, six young vaqueros from San Antonio de Béxar patrolled the area just south of the city, as they did many times. They were looking for invading marauders from the south that would occasionally slip into the area and steal cattle or harass the farmers and ranchers.
This group of vaqueros consisted of young men who the locals affectionately called "Los Leonsitos" (The Young Lions) for their courage and bravery. Years later, these same young men from Béxar would fight for Texas Independence with the now-famous Tejano Volunteer Company.
History remembers these young vaqueros as:
Gregorio Esparza – age 28
Manuel Flores – age 29
Antonio Cruz de Arocha – age 22
Juan Seguin – age 24
Manuel Leal – age 19
Salvador Flores – age 24
That afternoon, Antonio Cruz, who was at point position scouting, returned to the group with intel that he had spotted about 30 marauders heading their way. After hearing his report, the group thought about retreating and getting reinforcements. One of the young vaqueros, the one that the group looked up to, and the one who was known for his boldness during crucial moments, said, "No," and then uttered his now famous response,
"Maintenance Firme!" (Stand Your Ground!), and they did.
That was the Béjareño way. The "Béjareños" (Citizens of Béjar, Béxar), or Tejanos, mostly Canary Islanders, had fought continuously to survive since their arrival to San Antonio de Béxar. And they always stood their ground. That was basic survival 101 in Spanish Texas in the late 1700s and early 1800s. History remembers the young vaquero who uttered these words as Gregorio Esparza.
José Gregorio Esparza was born on February 25, 1802, in San Antonio de Béxar, the son of Juan Antonio Esparza and Maria Petra Esparza de Olivas. Gregorio, as he was known, grew up in old Spanish culture and traditions as a ranchero and vaquero in old San Antonio de Béxar. Gregorio was tall and muscular and was known as a fast runner, a superb horseman, and a fierce, skilled fighter.
At 24, Gregorio met and fell in love with a beautiful local Señorita, Ana Salazar. They courted, were married, and Ana bore him four sons before too long. One of his sons, Enrique, was an eyewitness to the siege of the Alamo — at the age of 8.
History remembers Enrique as the boy at the Alamo.
Gregorio was an outspoken man who always dreamed and spoke of a "Free and Independent" Texas. Esparza grew up in and around San Antonio and was a childhood friend of Manuel Flores. He also knew all the young men who served with the now-famous Tejano Volunteer Company. As early as their teen years, Tejanos from San Antonio and surrounding areas ran together in a pack, patrolling and protecting the citizens of San Antonio. Defending your community became a rite of passage for young men in Spanish Texas.
Gregorio was also a friend of those who aligned themselves with the forces that favored independence. Gregorio was well-liked and had many close friends, Tejanos, and Anglos.
In 1835, after the Battle of Gonzales, Gregorio joined the Texian Army after a brief training stint. From there, his unit, led by Plácido Benavides,
marched to Victoria to join the Matagorda Volunteer Group. Together the two companies would march to Goliad.
At Goliad, Gregorio fought in one of the first battles of the Texas revolution, the Battle of Goliad at La Bajia. On October 10, 1835, the Texians and Tejanos achieved an early victory in the war for independence by capturing that Mexican stronghold.
After the battle of Goliad, Gregorio's new orders in October 1835 were to march to San Antonio de Béxar and reinforce the Texian stronghold there. Upon arriving, Gregorio encountered his friend, Juan Seguín. Along with the Tejanos from Goliad, Gregorio joined the TVC under Juan Seguín's command.
A couple of months later, Gregorio, with the Tejanos, and the Texians, participated in the Siege of Bexar on December 05 through 9 in the house-to-house fighting, taking the plazas on the north side of Béxar. Gregorio served through December 10, when General Martín Perfecto de Cos surrendered and left the city. After the successful siege and capitulation, Gregorio retired to his family home to celebrate Christmas with his loved ones.
In early 1836, Blas Herrera, a Tejano spy, brought intel from his recon mission to Laredo that he had spotted the Mexican Army - crossing the Rio Grande. During his famous ride back to Béxar, Blas warned many families allowing many in Texas, including residents, to organize and send their families and loved ones away - out of harm's way.
One of Gregorio's friends, Colorado (John Smith), suggested that Gregorio gather Ana with the family and move to Nacogdoches. He told him he could have a wagon, team, and all the necessary provisions for a trip if he wanted to take his family away. Gregorio had three children and a wife to consider (including a two-year-old in her arms). So, Gregorio decided to take the offer and move the family.
Therefore, it was decided — and everything was a go.
On the morning of February 23, Colorado, godfather to Gregorio's youngest son, came running to Gregorio's home on North Flores Street, just above the Presbyterian Church. Still, Gregorio was out, so Colorado addressed Ana.
Colorado: "Ana! - General Santa Anna and the Vanguard Brigade are quickly advancing to San Antonio de Béxar — as we speak! Warn my brother Gregorio!"
General Antonio López de Santa Anna was just south of the city and fast approaching — San Antonio de Béxar. So the time for Gregorio's plan to move his family to San Felipe ran out on February 23. When Gregorio came home, Ana told him of Colorado's warning and then asked what he would do.
Ana: "You know the Americans are at the Alamo, which is now fortified. Are we going to run, or what will we do?"
Gregorio: "Well, I'm going to the fort."
And history remembers that at that moment, as Gregorio was quickly gathering his weapons, Ana stopped him for a minute, looked at her husband with boldness, and replied with her now famous response,
Ana: "Well, if you go, I am going along, and the whole family too!"
Gregorio hugged his wife and then instructed her to get the entire family ready to move immediately. It took the whole day to get prepared and move.
History remembers that Gregorio's family ran together to The Alamo that evening. They ran down Commerce Street on the other side of the river, even as advance units of the Mexican Cavalry were storming through the streets, terrorizing the city. Finally, Gregorio, his wife, and his children arrived at twilight. He entered the Alamo through a small window in the church.
Although Col. William Barret Travis, through James Bowie's influence, was allowing local citizens to leave if they so desired, he asked Gregorio to go with his family. Esparza responded with his now famous – "No! I will stay and die fighting!"
On the first night, a few of the Tejano Volunteers, including Gregorio, Toribio Losoya, and Sebastian "Luciano" Pacheco, went out and captured some prisoners. One of them was a Mexican soldier, and all through the siege, he interpreted the bugle calls on the Mexican side. In this way, the Americans knew about the movements of the enemy.
The second day was Gregorio's birthday. He was 34.
During the truce offered by General Santa Anna, Gregorio told his wife that she better take the children and go while she could do so safely. But Ana answered, "No, if you're going to stay, so am I. If they kill one — they can kill us all!" Gregorio was a good friend of James Bowie and would not leave the Alamo when given a chance during that armistice, probably due to this relationship.
On the last evening of the siege, a Saturday night, the bombardment had temporarily stopped. For a short moment, there was peace. Gregorio and Ana were safely sleeping together in headquarters.
Then, on the morning of the last day of the siege, at about 5 am, there was great shooting and firing at the northwest corner. Ana woke up, looked out the door, and woke her husband,
"Gregorio, the soldiers have jumped the wall. The fight's begun!"
Gregorio immediately got up, packed his weapons, took one last look at Ana – kissed her – and then ran out into the darkness, into the fight, and was never seen alive by his family again.
According to some accounts, Gregorio ran straight to the thick of the fight. Then as the Mexicans breached the north wall, he fell back to his post, manning the cannon at the top of the ramp in the chapel next to James Bonham and Alamaron Dickinson.
With one last blast of the canon, the remaining defenders obliterated the Mexican soldiers at the door. For a moment, all was still. Then, according to the boy at the Alamo, Enrique, who witnessed the final moments of the battle from the shadows of his room, Gregorio looked at James Bonham and said something. Gregorio probably said, stand your ground. Because right after that, Gregorio assumed his fighting stance, crouching intently with a hatchet in his right hand and a large knife in his left. He was waiting and anticipating the second wave of Mexican troops, now charging with bayonets pointing and yelling as they made their way up the ramp.
At about 6 am Sunday, during what history recalls as some of the deadliest hand-to-hand fightings of that battle, Gregorio made his heroic stand next to James. Together, the Tejano and the Texian fell at the Alamo. The two defenders stood their ground as the Eagle fell.
In a historical coincidence, Gregorio's older brother was also there.
Gregorio's brother, Jose Francisco Esparza, was present during the battle of the Alamo as a Captain of the Mexican army. Francisco had been a San Antonio de Béxar Presidial Mexican Army Captain at the Alamo before the Texians and Tejanos drove them out (Siege of Bexar). However, Gregorio's brother Francisco chose not to participate in the battle of the Alamo.
Immediately after the fall of the Alamo, at about 6:30 am, Francisco entered the Alamo compound looking for Gregorio. Instead, he found his brother's body among the dead on the ramp – still clutching his weapons. According to some accounts, Francisco knelt beside Gregorio's body — and wept.
Francisco cried loudly, "Gregorio! Gregorio!"
Even sadder, as the Esparza children were being escorted out of the Alamo by Colonel Juan Almonte, they could hear their uncle crying for their father.
Afterward, Francisco got up, ordered several soldiers to guard Gregorio's body, and went to see General Santa Anna. Francisco personally asked Santa Anna to allow him to recover his brother's body for a proper Christian burial and not be burned as planned for all of the defenders. History remembers that Gregorio Esparza was the only defender allowed to receive a Christian burial. In company with his two brothers, Francisco took Gregorio's body. The family, including Ana and her children, interred him in "Campo Santo" cemetery, west of San Pedro Creek.
It's hard to put into words who Gregorio was to this revolution. He was a good friend and an influence on many of the principles of that era, like Deaf Smith, Juan Seguin, the Flores Brothers, Blas Herrera, John (Colorado) Smith, James Bowie, and many others. They trusted and respected Gregorio, who stood and fought for Texas freedom with passion, which was contagious.
Gregorio Esparza was a True Patriot of our Texas Revolution.
Every year the descendants of this brave Tejano still gather at a predetermined venue in San Antonio to celebrate Gregorio's life on his birthday. According to people I have interviewed, about 3,000 descendants make it every year.
This post is dedicated to all Gregorio's descendants living today and worldwide. They continue to carry the torch of freedom given to them by Gregorio Esparza, a Tejano Patriot of our revolution, to the benefit of Texas.
Thank you, Gregorio Esparza, Texas Patriot, for STANDING YOUR GROUND, your heroic devotion to Texas Freedom, and your ultimate sacrifice for our Republic - of Texas.
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